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”Magnificently well performed” — Göteborgs-Posten


Macbeth is the darkest of Verdi’s Shakespeare adaptations. A study in how the lust for power corrodes human compassion and morals. 

Macbeth, trailer
“...magnificently well performed”Göteborgs-Posten
“...more relevant than ever”Borås tidning
“A fantastic, convincing performance”Radio P4 Sjuhärad
“The orchestra has amazing precision”Göteborgs-Posten
I am in blood stepp’d so far…
Mats Persson (Macbeth)
Joakim Roos
What happens when all sense of ethics and morals collapse? Shakespeare’s fateful drama, Macbeth, has survived for more than 400 years, and yet the themes are more relevant than ever. The ambitious Macbeth has it foretold that he will one day be king of Scotland. His wife, even thirstier for power, pushes him to eliminate all obstacles in his way. Macbeth manages to murder the king and contrives to gain power without raising suspicion – but the blood on his hands will not wash off. His conscience torments him, but there’s no going back. Unlike Hamlet, whose tragedy lies in his failure to act, Macbeth’s is that, having committed his first murder, he simply cannot stop. Down, down the slope of violence he rushes, until he reaches the pit of Hell, “the everlasting bonfire”. All sense of ethics, all empathy must be obliterated to achieve that which is most desirable – unassailable authority. 

Verdi's powerful music and David Radok’s distinctive directing propels the pitch-black plot towards its inevitable end. The drama will unfold within Lars-Åke Thessman’s set design which, as always when this duo works together, is in perfect harmony with the direction.

This acclaimed production had its premiere at The Göteborg Opera in 2008.

A blood-soaked opera that took time to break through

Article by Göran Gademan, The Göteborg Opera’s dramaturgist

Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901)
Ferdinand Mulnier

Following his landmark opera Nabucco in 1842, composer Giuseppe Verdi was flooded with commissions from various opera houses over the course of six years. Besides La Scala, his work was in demand from Venice, Rome, Naples, Florence, London, Paris and Trieste. Naturally the quality of the twelve operas that followed was not entirely consistent – many of them were also fairly short, because quite simply he didn’t have time to make them any longer. He moved on deftly from the bel canto genre, but unlike his predecessors Rossini or Donizetti, he never reused music from another opera. Verdi himself referred to this period as his ‘galley years’, as he felt like a galley slave relentlessly churning out opera after opera. The operas that really stand out from the galley years are the ones that were heavily influenced by Risorgimento, the Italian movement that fought for Italian unification and freedom from the occupying powers. Italian audiences were delighted by the fiery choruses and cries for freedom and independence.

Image from the first score, Macbeth meets the witches

Ernani was the first of Verdi’s many operas for Teatro La Fenice in Venice and the first in a long series with Francesco Maria Piave as librettist. Piave was house librettist at La Fenice, but later accompanied Verdi to other opera houses. Piave was proficient and talented, but always subservient to Verdi, who became increasingly involved in details about the structure of the text. Verdi had an eye for what would work on stage and Piave was “able to capture the sea in a spoon”, meaning he could condense a complex drama featuring a throng of minor characters into an extremely effective libretto. In Venice, Piave also worked as a director. Verdi had impeccable literary taste, but it was sometimes difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. His operas were at their best when based on the works of major, well-established writers such as Shakespeare, Schiller or Victor Hugo.

After several years of non-stop composing, Verdi was physically exhausted and disappointed that he had failed to achieve the quality he was aiming for. He wanted to slow down, and together with Piave he carefully picked a subject to which he could devote more time. It was Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which premiered in Florence in 1847. As always, Verdi was meticulous about his choice of singers as he knew that they would be pivotal to the opera’s success, and on this occasion more so than ever. In a letter he advised against soprano Eugenia Tadolini in the role of Lady Macbeth for a later production:

Signora Tadolini sings to perfection, and I don’t want Lady Macbeth to sing at all. Tadolini has a wonderful voice; clear, fluid and strong, while Lady Macbeth’s voice should be hard, stifled and dark. Tadolini has the voice of an angel; Lady Macbeth’s should be that of a devil.
Marianna Barbieri-Nini, the first Lady Macbeth

At the first performance the role was played by Marianna Barbieri-Nini, and in her memoirs she recalls Verdi’s detailed instructions, down to the dramatic interpretation, and about how on the opening night, when the audience was already seated, he forced her and the baritone Felice Varesi (Macbeth) out into the foyer to practice their big duet in the first act one last time. 

Verdi himself understood that the opera’s two most important numbers were this very duet and Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene: “the success of the entire opera rests with these two numbers.” And it is these two songs that stand out the most in the opera and that have made it famous. They could not be further away from the stereotypical bel canto style, and as the quote confirms, it was hardly bel canto he was aiming for. In the sleepwalking scene, the vocal part is not even the focus, but rather, to the strains of the orchestra’s perpetually grinding theme, the lady in her delirium relives fragments of recent events and the murders that have been committed. Macbeth was a huge success, and there were still elements of Risorgimento in the Scottish refugees’ chorus at the beginning of the fourth act. Yet the opera took time to reach an international audience. 

In 1865, Verdi made some adjustments to Macbeth for Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. He wrote a new aria for Lady Macbeth in the second act (“La luce langue”), cut Macbeth’s death scene and allowed the chorus to completely take over the finale. This is the version that is almost always performed today, by the Göteborg Opera as well. If you listen to Riccardo Muti’s EMI recording of the work, you can compare the two versions. Some opera houses occasionally revert to Verdi’s original version. It is not surprising for opera houses to seek a little variety, since the work is now one of his most frequently performed operas, as well as being based on one of the best plays by perhaps the world’s most famous playwright.

— Göran Gademan


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